Jamarr Cruz lived in fear and pain. The 9-year-old was attacked in his city home at least 20 times this year by his mother's boyfriend, Vincent Williams
-- a brutal existence that ended with a deadly assault this week, officials said Wednesday. And all the while, Williams, 26 -- who authorities say has confessed to Jamarr's slaying and to hiding signs of his abuse -- was on probation for beating the boy with a belt in December 2007.
The 2007 assault led to intervention by the state Division of Youth and Family Services, which was involved with Jamarr's family until November 2008.
At a candlelight vigil for Jamarr on Wednesday evening, family members expressed shock at the violence inflicted upon the Molina School fourth-grader. They also demanded information from DYFS about its efforts on behalf of Jamarr, who was left in his home after the 2007 assault.
"What happened? What went wrong
?" asked a tearful Robert McGee Sr. of North Camden, Jamarr's grandfather. "And what's the plan to fix things?
" "Until we get some answers, we're not satisfied
," said Gladys Cruz of East Camden, who said Jamarr's mother, Omayra Cruz, is her niece.
DYFS officials will conduct an internal investigation of the case, said Kate Bernyk, an agency spokeswoman. She also said a 1-year-old boy was removed from Omayra Cruz's home and placed in foster care
after Jamarr's death.
Williams took careful steps to conceal the child abuse from outsiders, authorities said. The ex-convict told investigators he punched and kicked Jamarr in areas where bruises would be less visible
, such as the chest and stomach according to a court record. He acknowledged keeping the boy "from anyone who could possibly help him, including making up excuses so the victim could not see his grandparents
." And, the court record says, "On occasions, he would send the victim's mother away from the home so that he could hit the victim
," the court record says.
Omayra Cruz was not home when Williams punched and kicked Jamarr in the boy's bedroom at the Ablett Village public-housing complex about 7 a.m. Monday, authorities said. Williams -- described as 5-feet-10 and 170 pounds by Department of Corrections records -- was angry that the child had gone to the bathroom on himself
, officials said. The boy was denied medical care by his family on Monday,
authorities said. Jamarr was taken to a city hospital about 7:10 a.m. Tuesday, after his mother was unable to wake him, and he died at 7:35 a.m. Williams, who was arrested Tuesday after a high-speed chase, cried softly during his initial appearance in Superior Court
"(Williams) said, "I murdered him
,' and that's exactly what happened," said Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Mary Alison Albright as she summarized the suspect's statement to police. Williams told investigators that Jamarr was "very afraid
" of him, according to the statement. He also said he knew he had hurt the youth "pretty bad
." Williams could face life in prison without parole for the killing, which Albright described as "hideous." Superior Court Judge Thomas Brown set his bail at $1 million. Williams was imprisoned for several months in 2004 after two drug convictions.
According to court records, he was sentenced to three years probation after pleading guilty to neglect and abuse charges in connection with the 2007 incident. He also was ordered to attend anger-management and counseling classes. DYFS employees worked with the family through monthly checkups until November 2008, said Bernyk. During a 10-month period, the family went through counseling and Williams and Omayra Cruz attended parenting classes
, she said. DYFS determined an abuse complaint in September 2008 was unfounded
, Bernyk said.
Monica McGee, Jamarr's grandmother, believes the boy should have been taken from his troubled home after the 2007 incident. "None of this would have happened
," she said.
In cases of possible child abuse, the priority is to keep the child in the home unless it's found to be unsafe, said Mary Coogan, assistant director of The Association for Children of New Jersey. "The standard is whether the child can be safe
," Coogan said. "DYFS is obligated to assess whether or not services put in the home can allow the child to remain there safely
In 2007, 23 children died in New Jersey from neglect or abuse, according to a report by the state's Office of the Child Advocate. Seventeen of the deaths were ruled homicides. The grandmother also said she wasn't aware of the recent abuse and couldn't understand why no one reported it. "I am just grieving really hard right now
," she said. "Why didn't anybody come forward and let anybody know any information
The prosecutor's office provided no comment as to whether Omayra Cruz is being investigated
. Jamarr's mother attended Wednesday's vigil briefly. She silently held a candle next to Jamarr's father, Ellhajj Malik Monroe, then stepped into the crowd, embraced a family member and left.
That came after Robert McGee Sr. urged some 60 listeners to avoid making judgments in Jamarr's case. "As much as you want to point fingers, I'm not going to," he said. "Now is the time to heal